Warning Signs of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying on social media can have devastating physical and mental effects on teens. For parents and guardians, it is critical to understand the warning signs of cyberbullying to help keep your child safe.

Attorney Matthew BergmanWritten and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Matthew Bergman

Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by

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Research compiled in 2013 to review cyberbullying data collected between 2007-2013 indicates that in one study involving 137 participants, 90% of the 62 participants from the adolescent group reported experiencing cyberbullying as victims or as bystanders. Seventy percent of those participants who classified themselves as victims stated having been cyberbullied one or two times within one month. Additionally, 89% of parent participants reported not knowing whether their child had ever been a victim of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is happening whether parents are aware of it or not. Most parents and adults know what cyberbullying is or that it exists, and some have even experienced it. Yet, despite the growing awareness, it’s still going unrecognized, leaving children and teenagers vulnerable to its far-reaching and sometimes devastating effects. Learning how to recognize the signs of cyberbullying and intervening early on can more quickly get your teen the help they need and protect them from additional or persistent harm.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a collection of actions occurring on social media or via direct messages online. These actions might include sending or sharing messages, videos, or pictures in an effort to embarrass, intimidate, or otherwise harm another person. Due to its online nature, cyberbullying can be invasive, persistent, and widespread.

How does cyberbullying occur?

The ways in which someone chooses to engage in cyberbullying or electronic aggression can vary. Forms of cyberbullying might include:

Doxing or exposing someone else’s private or identifying information
Pressuring others to look or act some way or engage in certain behaviors
Some situations of cyberbullying can be physically dangerous, requiring immediate intervention. All circumstances of cyberbullying can be emotionally and mentally harmful, leading to physical consequences. Therefore, no instance of cyberbullying should be excused or taken lightly.

Group of teens on various electronic devices

Where does cyberbullying occur?

Cyberbullying can occur in any type of digital setting, including mobile phones (e.g., text messaging) and the internet, such as emails, chat rooms, online gaming platforms, social media and other online networking platforms, direct messaging, and even via blogs. If your child or teen has a mobile device, digital gaming system, personal computer, or direct access to the Internet at home or elsewhere, they’re vulnerable to cyberbullying.

The Importance of Identifying Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can have significant psychological impacts on your developing teen, which is why it’s important to recognize the signs of cyberbullying early on so that you can help get your child the help they need and prevent further harm. Children are introduced to social media today at a time when their social and emotional development is peaking, leaving them especially vulnerable to peer pressure and attacks from cyberbullies. Pre-teens and adolescents are not yet equipped to self-regulate or independently control their emotions and behaviors effectively.

According to research, the effects of cyberbullying on a person’s psyche can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, social exclusion, school phobias, and poor academic performance. Additionally, cyberbullying can cause physiological and psychosocial harm to its victims, resulting in inappropriate behaviors, alcohol and other substance misuse, smoking, and a lack of commitment to academics or other responsibilities (including family, friends, and other relationships) or activities (including extracurriculars and hobbies).

In severe cases, some children and teens have suicidal ideations or attempt suicide as a means of escape. Some youth commit suicide due to persistent and invasive cyberbullying. In fact, victims of cyberbullying are two to nine times more likely to seriously consider suicide based on various studies.

How do I know if my child or teen is being cyberbullied?

Chances are your child won’t tell you if they’re being cyberbullied. A report by the National Crime Prevention Council found that only 11% of teens talked about cyberbullying incidents with their parents. Most teens try to handle cyberbullies on their own. While some methods, such as blocking the cyberbully, help stop current cyberbullying and prevent future harm, some tactics only serve to spur further attacks and can even attempt to switch roles between the victim and the bully.

According to the same NCPC report, 50% of targeted teens felt angry after being cyberbullied, and about one-third of cyberbullied teens felt hurt. These emotions can result in negative consequences when children don’t involve an adult to help them process their feelings and respond constructively or take the proper actions to resolve the cyberbullying. Therefore, recognizing cyberbullying and intervening when it’s happening can provide you with an opportunity to help your child handle the situation appropriately in a way that’s most beneficial to their long-term well-being.

Signs of cyberbullying to be aware of include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as frequent or recurring headaches, stomachaches, poor appetite, and sleep disturbances (e.g., nightmares or insomnia)
  • Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Avoiding school or leaving school due to reported health problems
  • Low academic performance or academic problems (i.e., not doing schoolwork, missing assignments, not studying, failing tests, etc.)
  • Detachment from friends, family, and activities or hobbies
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger, rage, or heightened irritability or frustration
  • Suicidal ideation and depressive symptoms
  • Self-injury or other self-destructive behaviors
  • Suicide attempts

Another way to recognize cyberbullying is to monitor your child’s online activities. The NCPC report found that nearly 80% of teens described not having parental rules about Internet use or admitted to finding ways around those rules to use the Internet and social media as they pleased. This stat highlights the need for parents to be more aware of what their children are doing online because most children won’t voluntarily fill you in. Knowing the various apps and online networking sites and staying up to date on popular online trends can help you safeguard your teen from cyberbullying and other digital dangers and better recognize it when it happens.

How do I know if my child or teen is cyberbullying someone else?

Sometimes, your child might be a cyberbully. Cyberbullying is very different from traditional bullying due to its seeming anonymity and lack of direct contact, leading children who wouldn’t typically fall into the characterization of a bully to get involved in online harassment, disparagement, or other harmful acts toward their peers. Cyberbullies might also start as victims or targets and retaliate, thereby swapping roles to become the aggressor. According to the NCPC report, 30% of teens admitted to a desire to seek revenge on their cyberbully.

The same report found that 81% of youth believe that teens cyberbully others because they think it’s funny. Not understanding the gravity of cyberbullying and the severity of its impacts can lead children to become engaged in cyberbullying as a “joke” or a mere pastime, never fully grasping how their actions affect others. It’s important then as parents to recognize when your child is acting as a cyberbully so that you can explain to them the seriousness of online bullying and help coach them on more appropriate or beneficial uses of social media and other digital avenues.

Signs your child might be a cyberbully or a bystander to cyberbullying include:

  • Hiding their devices from others so that you cannot see their screen or quickly switching screens when you enter a room
  • Avoiding discussions about their online activities
  • Getting unusually angry, irritable, frustrated, or anxious when they cannot use or access their devices
  • Needing to have their devices near them or on them at all times
  • Using their devices at all times, including varying times in the middle of the night
  • Becoming withdrawn from family, friends, and activities they previously enjoyed
  • Making new friends that are somewhat questionable or engage in questionable activities
  • Having increased behavioral or academic problems
  • Demonstrating violent or aggressive actions or thoughts or seeming indifferent or insensitive to other teens
  • Appearing to be consumed with being popular, becoming conceited
  • Using multiple online accounts or having accounts or profiles that don’t belong to them, using different identities
  • Learning more tech-savvy skills but not sharing any of their technological achievements with anyone else

Parent Resources: What can I do about it?

Awareness is key to safeguarding your child or teen. Today, many adults and parents don’t fully understand the vast impacts and varied uses of mobile phones and the internet. Knowing what to watch for and keeping open lines of communication can help protect your teen from cyberbullying instances.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying can still happen, no matter how vigilant you are and how willing your child is to confide in you. After it starts, there are ways you can combat it. First, make sure your child knows not to engage with the online bully. Additionally, you should not get involved either. Instead, document the behavior with printed screenshots, emails, or text messages. Try to include dates and timestamps, or document it yourself. Then, block the cyberbully to avoid further direct contact and shield your teen from what they’re saying.

There are a few different ways to report cyberbullying. First, you can report the cyberbullying to online service providers. Generally, cyberbullying violates the terms of service established by various social media sites and online network providers. If you report the cyberbullying, they can determine if the user has violated their criteria and may block the users from accessing their sites or take other actions as appropriate to remedy the situation. There’s usually a “terms and conditions” or “rights and responsibilities” section that you can refer to for clarification on what is and isn’t allowed.

If cyberbullying impacts your child’s learning environment or occurs during school hours or even after-hours by your teen’s peers, you can report the incidents to the school or your local educational administration board. Various state laws will determine how a school must address online bullying and what remedies are available to your child.

You can also report cyberbullying to law enforcement. Certain cyberbullying actions, including threats of violence, sextortion, and cyberstalking, warrant getting the appropriate law enforcement authorities involved. Various state and federal laws come into play to determine whether you’re eligible for civil or criminal remedies.

If you have specific questions about cyberbullying, its effects on your teen, and what you can do about it, contact the Social Media Victims Law Center today for a free consultation.

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Every case is unique. Our attorneys will work with your family to evaluate your potential case and help you evaluate whether filing a lawsuit or other legal proceeding is in your family’s best interest. Generally speaking, the types of cases we handle involve serious mental health effects, including attempted or completed suicide, eating disorders, inpatient mental health treatment, or sexual trafficking/exploitation that was caused by or contributed to through addictive or problematic social media use by teens and young adults.

We are a law firm based near Seattle, WA comprised of lawyers who have spent their entire careers representing victims who have been harmed by dangerous products. We are also parents. Shocked and troubled by the recent revelations about the harm caused to teens and young adults by social media platforms, which powerful technology companies have designed to be highly addictive, Social Media Victims Law Center was launched specifically to help families and children who have suffered serious mental harm or exploitation through social media use to obtain justice.

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